‘I thought it would give a man a job’; one man’s weak excuse for breaking windows

whitehall

George Jackson had a strange way of helping the late Victorian economy. On Sunday 19 August 1883 he picked up a handful of stones in the Strand and put them in his pocket. He walked on down the Strand in the direction of what was then the Charing Cross railway and foot bridge, heading for Whitehall. In 1883 this was where the majority of the government buildings were, including the Home Office on the corner of Charles Street and parliament Street.

At ten to one in the morning he was seen by PC 31 of A Division who watched as the young man lobbed two stones at the windows of the Home Office building. As the plate glass window smashed the police officer rushed over and seized the culprit as he calmly walked away. Jackson was taken away and brought before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street on the Monday morning after.

Mr Flowers wanted to know why he had thrown the stones, telling him he ‘had acted like an idiot’. The magistrate declared that:

I cannot understand a man willfully breaking a window and walking off’, adding: ‘You are not a glazier, are you?’

No, but I thought it would give a man a job’, was Jackson’s reply.

Yes, and you a month’s imprisonment’, quipped Mr Flowers.

It was a case of willful damage to government property but not overly serious. Certainly it was something the magistrate was well within his power to deal with summarily. However, he was inclined, he said, to send Jackson for trial where he could expect a more severe sentence. The prisoner’s situation wasn’t helped by the appearance of a policeman from L Division who said that he’d previously been convicted for breaking windows in Lambeth. The justice there had sent him down for a month but he’d not learned from his experience.

Mr Flowers decided to remand his for a few more days ‘for enquiries’. George would have to sweat it out in a cell for the time being as he waited to find out his fate.

In the end Jackson turned up at the Middlesex Sessions having been committed for trial almost a year later on a separate charge by one of Flowers’ fellow magistrates, Mr Vaughan. He was tried on the 5 February 1884 for ‘maliciously damaging three panes of glass, the property of Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Works’.

George Jackson clearly had a problem with authority and government. He pleaded guilty but despite this, and probably because his previous convictions now counted hard against him, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Jackson was listed as being 33 years old and a carpenter. Perhaps he was a disgruntled former government employee, now out of work (as many were in the 1880s (the decade that coined the word ‘unemployment’).

Maybe also he was suffering from some form of mental illness. Either way, eight years was a very stiff penalty for breaking windows and reflects both the harshness of the late Victorian ‘justice’ system and contemporary fears associated with terror attacks in the capital, of which there were several in the 1883-5.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 26, 1883]

Dodging the Police and skating on thin ice in St James’s Park

St James Park Frozen

In the Victorian period the ornamental lake in St James’ Park was occasionally turned into an impromptu  skating rink. There are reports of Londoners donning their skates and taking to the ice in large numbers.  This was despite the fact that it was a dangerous thing to do and the park authorities and police took measures to stop them.

This rarely prevented them however, as one writer noted in 1853:

They invariably prefer testing the ice themselves, by walking on to it, or under it, as may happen: and it is for the sake of checking this precocious spirit of experiment, that the edge of the ice all round the lake has been broken every morning since the frost set in, by men appointed for the purpose; and hence it is that now, when it will bear, bridges of plank have to be laid down that they may get on and off. You may observe, likewise, that ropes are laid across the ice from one bank to the other, in readiness to be drawn instantly to any part that may give way.

Charles Manby Smith, Curiosities of London Life (1853)

In January 1879 the weather was cold enough for the lake to freeze over and dozens took to the ice. In desperation the park authorities and police resorted to the law to try to deter the thrill seekers. One morning at Bow Street a ‘number of young men’ were brought in before Mr Ingram charged with ‘sliding and skating on the ornamental water’ despite ‘the caution of the police and the printed notices forbidding the same’.

The case was prosecuted by the representatives of the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Works, who ran the parks, in the person of Mr Golden, a Treasury Solicitor. Golden regretted having to bring the case but said the Commissioners had been exasperated by pleasure seekers simply ignoring all the signs and even attempting to cut the rope that was used to clear them off.

Several policemen had been deployed to thwart the skaters but their attempts had become something of an entertainment in itself. The skaters amused themselves by ‘dodging’ the bobbies who found it ‘no easy task’ to catch them. Mr Golden told the magistrate that the ‘tumbling of an officer was a special source of delight to the mob’.  I can well imagine it was.

The magistrate, satisfied that the Treasury solicitor had proved his case, turned to one of the young men in the dock and asked him if he thought it was ‘fun’ to act as he had been accused of doing. ‘Certainly’, replied the youth, ‘and I think so still’. The appearance in court hadn’t cowed him or his fellows at all. I suspect they were respectable young men because their names were not recorded in the paper and Mr Ingram fined them the considerable sum of £1 each and let them go.

[from The Standard, Friday, January 17, 1879]

For other posts relating to London’s parks see:

Pram (and class) wars in Regent’s Park

Indecency and rough behaviour spoil the tranquility of London’s Royal Parks

Riotous behaviour in Hyde Park and a cobbler is sent packing

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